Pep Guardiola shrugged off the suggestion Phil Foden’s sensational form proves he was right to slowly ease the youngster into first-team action, insisting football is only about the present.
Manchester City prodigy Foden made his Premier League debut in 2017-18, playing five times in total. While his talent was obvious, Guardiola was cautious with his development and opted to drop the attacker in and out of games, sometimes causing ire in the media.
A total of 13 league appearances followed in 2018-19 before Foden truly began to establish himself last season, making 37 appearances across all competitions.
Guardiola’s cautious approach has seemingly paid off, with Foden one of City’s most impressive players this campaign.
The 20-year-old has played 41 times in total, including 29 starts. He is joint-second – alongside Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – in City’s scorers’ list with 13 goals, behind Ilkay Gundogan (16); Foden’s latest strike coming against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
His tally of nine assists is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (16), with the Belgian (99) and Riyad Mahrez (75) the two City players to have created more chances than Foden (65).
But asked if he can take credit for Foden’s development, Guardiola insisted the England international must continue to prove himself in every game.
“It’s not about what we believed in the past, it’s about what they show on the grass,” Guardiola told a news conference ahead of City’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.
“So, footballers have to show every single day. The journalists will talk a lot about the past, or the future. In football it’s about the present.
“In the present it doesn’t matter what we have done, it’s what we do today. Everybody is involved, talking and talking. The players have to talk on the grass.
“It’s the only way they can protect their position and win in the present and in the future. It’s as simple as that.
“Phil in that case, everything we get right now is on the grass, not in any other situations. He’s going to continue being there depending on his performance, not on what he has done so far at a young age. You have to every game win something to stay in the position and playing every day.”
While Foden is thriving, one player whose form has been called into question in some quarters is Sterling, who only came on for a brief cameo towards the end against Dortmund.
Guardiola, however, disregarded the suggestion it had to be a choice between Foden or Sterling for a spot on the left.
“If you know a bit the trajectory of this team selection, then the answer is obvious,” said Guardiola, who also confirmed Sergio Aguero will not be fit to feature at Wembley.
“Of course they can play together, they have played many times together. Phil can play in five positions, Sterling in three positions. Everyone can play in a few positions, so it depends on them.”
Sterling has created fewer opportunities than Foden this season (45), though he has the same amount of assists, having crafted the same number of Opta-defined “big chances” (12) and they are over-performing their expected assists to a similar degree.
Foden has a slightly better shot conversion rate – 16.1 per cent compared to 15.7 – though has attempted two fewer (81 compared to 83) attempts than the former Liverpool winger.